Special Reports

Police pursue Michigan lead in Gricar case

BELLEFONTE — Family and friends of Ray Gricar say they are baffled by claims the missing district attorney was seen May 27 near Detroit but are hopeful the reported sightings will further the investigation.

A customer at a restaurant in Southfield, Mich., said he thinks he saw Gricar eating with a woman who appeared to be in her early 70s. The customer told police he made eye contact with the man and said hello.

The witness said as he was sitting down to dinner with his daughter that he “knew him from somewhere,” Bellefonte Police Chief Duane Dixon said.

That night, the witness saw a rerun of Greta Van Susteren’s show on Fox that featured an interview with Gricar’s housemate and girlfriend, Patty Fornicola.

“He saw that and said, ‘That’s where I knew him from,’ ” Dixon said.

Bellefonte police sent a photograph of Gricar and photos of seven similar-looking men to authorities in Southfield for the customer to examine. Darrel Zaccagni, a Bellefonte officer, said the man immediately picked out Gricar’s photo as the man he saw at the restaurant.

But the customer had seen photos of Gricar before looking at the lineup.

“Did that come into play?” Dixon said. “We don’t know.”

Even so, police are treating the reported sighting as the first real lead in the case since a similar sighting in Wilkes-Barre on April 19.Gricar was last heard from about 11:30 a.m. April 15, when he called Fornicola to tell her he was taking a drive in Brush Valley. The car he was driving was found the next day in Lewisburg.

“I’m hoping it’s an accurate sighting,” Fornicola said. “But I don’t know what to think.”

Gricar has no friends or family in Detroit, Fornicola said. She said that, as far as she knows, he’s never visited that area.

Gricar’s nephew Tony Gricar said he’s been to Southfield on business. The town isn’t really his uncle’s style, he said.

“It’s a corporate and light industrial area. The hotels there cater to businesspeople,” Tony Gricar said. “I can’t see Ray stopping there.”

Neither Tony Gricar nor Fornicola knew of anyone fitting the description of the elderly woman with the man the witness saw. Police are working on getting a composite picture of the woman, Zaccagni said.

“Ray is really the oldest generation in our family,” Tony Gricar said. “So who the heck would that woman be?”

Police also have no theories as to why Ray Gricar would be in Michigan.

“It’s 10 miles from the Canadian border,” Zaccagni said, adding that a passport is not needed to cross into Canada. “And we know Ray likes cars. Maybe he went to Detroit to be around cars.”After the witness picked Gricar’s photo out of the lineup, police in Southfield began showing the photo to employees at the restaurant, Zaccagni said. Some of them said they remembered seeing a man similar to Gricar but weren’t sure when. Police are trying to track down the man’s restaurant bill in hopes of finding both the server who waited on him and how he paid.

“If he paid with a credit card, we can get lots of information about that,” Zaccagni said.

There has been no activity on Gricar’s bank accounts or credit cards since his disappearance, according to police.

Police in Southfield are also looking into whether the man may have stayed at a hotel close to the restaurant, Zaccagni said.

Even as they look into the possible sighting, police are continuing to investigate other explanations for Gricar’s disappearance, including foul play.

Zaccagni said police have a short list of suspects who may have had motive to kill Gricar, most of whom are people Gricar prosecuted during his 25-year tenure at the district attorney’s office.

Fornicola and other family and friends also have been questioned by a state police criminal profiler who works at the Milton barracks, in part so a complete picture of Gricar and his habits could be developed. Zaccagni said Fornicola and other family and friends are not considered suspects.

“She did an intensive interview in Milton,” Zaccagni said of Fornicola. “She said nothing that was suspicious, that raised any red flags with the profiler.”

And Fornicola has offered to take a polygraph test, Zaccagni said.

“If Ray is found and he’s a victim of a homicide, we might ask her to take one,” Zaccagni said. Fornicola is not surprised by authorities’ initial interest in her as a suspect.

“I’m willing to do whatever they need me to do,” she said. “I want to find him.”Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616.